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Negative Tracks

PEI’s snow is almost gone here on Prince Edward Island, and my Winter Wildlife Tracks and Sign series is winding down. Before it does, I have one more type of track to highlight – not from a particular animal, but from special snow conditions. These are negative tracks.

You’re used to seeing tracks pressed *into* the snow but when weather conditions are right, they can appear to rise above it. The two sets of tracks shown here were made in conditions at opposite ends of the winter weather spectrum: cold and dry in Photo 1 and warm and moist in Photo 2.

Photo 1: These negative Red Fox tracks are a result of cold, dry mid-winter conditions.

The tracks in Photo 1 are from a Red Fox and were first made on a very cold day in dry, powdery snow. The weight of the Fox pressed the tracks into the soft surface and compacted the snow underneath. Then the wind picked up and easily carried away the loose snow around them. The packed snow beneath the footprints was harder (more ice than snow) and able to withstand the wind. The result is these raised tracks. When cold, dry weather persists, negative tracks like these can last for weeks.

Photo 2: These negative Snowshoe Hare tracks are a result of warm, moist spring conditions.

The tracks in Photo 2 are from a Snowshoe Hare and were made in milder, moister conditions. The top layer of snow had started to melt in the sun, but the next layer down was still firm. As the Hare moved across the snow, its tracks both sunk into it and left small ridges around the edges. (You can see the same thing yourself when you step into soft, shallow snow or mud). The snow continued to both melt and evaporate, leaving the compressed ridges behind. In the lowest-most track, you can see the ridges starting to fold as they melt. I particularly like how they were thinnest in front of the Hare’s hind feet, leaving slipper-like holes as the snow melted around them. Unlike negative tracks made in cold winter conditions, these will quickly disappear under the warm spring sun.

The arrival of spring marks the return of my plant profiles & foraging posts, as well as my PEI habitat highlights. I’ve got lots of new information planned for 2023, so be sure to follow me here and on Facebook – you won’t want to miss a thing!

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